Looking to do a renovation on your home? Do your due diligence when selecting a contractor. Here are a few tips when choosing a contractor in Calgary.
What are you renovating?
What contractor to look for often depends on the type of renovation. Is it a smaller renovation such as a bathroom? Or a bigger one such as a home addition? Depending on the type of renovation, some contractors are specialized in particular fields such basement developments, bathrooms or kitchens. When selecting a contractor for a job, make sure that the contractor can actually handle the renovation. Obviously, some work on their own, maybe with the help of one, or a few, employees. Some contractors work with subcontractors to do specific jobs.
If the renovation is significant, you may opt for a general contractor. The general contractor takes responsibility for the entire project including design, getting permits, etc. Then this general contractor hires the subcontractors for the specific tasks. The advantage of working with a general contractor is that one experienced person oversees the entire project and most likely works with trades people who have already proven their skills.
A few trusted ways to find a contractor
There are many contractors in Calgary, so it is an important task to find a reliable one. Here are a few pointers to find a contractor:
- Find a contractor via references. Ask friends, family, co-workers, neighbours or anybody who had a renovation done for the name of their contractor. Most likely, along with a name, you will also get an honest review of their personal experience.
- Via the internet. Google for contractors or renovators in Calgary. Those contractors with a serious business will have their own website and list their specialities.
- Renomark is one website that lists trades people and renovators. These contractors comply with the code of ethics of the BILD Calgary Region Association and a renovation-specific Code of Conduct. One stipulation for a contractor to join Renomark is the contractor must offer a minimum of a two-year warranty on all work.
- The Better Business Bureau. Although the BBB seems to have lost some glory, its website is still a good directory for contractors and trades. This website also states how many years a company is in business.
- the Calgary Renovation Contractors Association, the CRCA, gives a data base to connect homeowners to contractors and renovators.
- The City of Calgary has a complete list available with all licensed contractors by contractor type. The type of contractor may be an electrician, a plumber, fireplace installer, etc.
- Many big box stores can refer contractors, as well. They maintain a list within different departments for different fields of contracting.
- The internet offers many sources for finding a contractor such as Homestars, Taskrabbit, Kijiji, RenovationFind, Houzz, etc. Be aware that many of these websites that “connect you with the best contractor” are all operating via paid advertisements.
A few important tips when hiring a contractor
- Get the entire renovation in writing. What needs to be renovated? What materials are used? What are the proposed methods of construction? What is the estimated time frame between start and finish? What is the contractor not responsible for? Does the renovation need any permits? If so, who is responsible for pulling these permits? What is the estimated cost of the renovation based on the above details? Is there any warranty on the work?
- Also, this detailed written agreement needs the name and the business license number of the contractor.
- When changes are made during the renovations, make sure these changes are detailed in writing.
- Check the license of the contractor with the City of Calgary. Every business in Calgary needs a business license. This business license indicates that the contractor is legitimate and is allowed to operate. This is important because many jobs need a permit and without a valid business license from the City of Calgary, the contractor can’t obtain any permits.
- If a deposit is required, check with Service Alberta if the contractor is allowed to ask for a deposit. Liability insurance is important when someone is working on your home. Always ask for proof of insurance, no matter whether the job is big or small.
- If subcontractors are working on the job, check their WCB status, the Workers Compensation Board status.
- If hiring a specific tradesman such as an electrician, plumber or a fire place installer, make sure that the trades person is certified in Alberta. Service Alberta offers an easy online tool for checking this.
- If you agree on a payment plan, get the schedule of payments in writing.
- Checking your own insurance policy for damages during construction is always a good idea. Who is responsible for what kind of damage?
- Ask for references and check the contractor’s past work.
Different type of contracts
Contracts with contractors are of several different types. A fixed price includes all labour and materials. Those are often used for smaller jobs that are easier to complete by the contractor. The cost-plus contract adds a fixed amount or a percentage to the direct cost of labour and materials. This is a good contract for larger renovations that are more difficult to set out upfront. The unit price contract states a price per measurement, for example per square foot or cubic meter. And lastly is the design-build contract, usually for the larger projects, for example when a designer, architect and builder are involved. These contracts can vary in methods of pricing the different aspects of a large renovation.
Red flags when hiring a contractor
Here are a few red flags to be aware of when hiring a contractor:
- Offering to do the job without an invoice, to save on GST. A renovation without an invoice to save a “whopping” 5% means you have “no leg to stand on” if anything goes wrong.
- Pricing that is too good to be true is often a red flag. An honest contractor is in the business for an honest living and needs an honest wage. Cheap and low-ball pricing for a job can be a red flag for poor quality.
- If a contractor is not willing to give out references, think twice. A reliable renovator must have a portfolio and must be able to give some names of previous clients.
- Google reviews may help. However, too many 5-star reviews on Google might be suspect these days.
- A contractor who is hard to reach to begin with is often difficult to reach during the process.
- Be careful with “guesstimates”. Without a doubt, some seasoned contractors are highly skilled at giving a “ballpark” estimate; however, that remains a guess. Thus, anything unforeseen can come up during the renovations, or expectations may differ, so get any quotes in detailed writing.
Make sure that you or the contractor obtain the necessary permits. Be very clear and specific about who is responsible for the permit application. Permits are needed in several cases such as for basement development, for additions, for adding or removing walls in a home, when changes are made in electrical or plumbing, etc. If in doubt about whether a permit is needed, always contact the city for the correct information. Only licensed contractors can request a permit.
Once the work is completed
In essence, the contractor gets paid when the work is finished. Inspect the work with the contractor before payment. A contractor may ask for payment during the project, when specific work is completed. Get these interim payments in clear writing and keep proof of them.
In the case of subcontractors being involved, it is advisable to check your title once the work is completed. In case the contractor doesn’t pay the invoice of the subcontractor, the subcontractor can place a lien on your property. With consumer protection for this practice, Alberta allows the client to withhold 10% for 45 days. For more information on this subject visit Service Alberta.
Deposits or prepayments to contractors
Alberta has special rules regarding deposits or prepayments by contractors. A contractor who accepts a deposit must be licensed by the province of Alberta. To check if a contractor has a prepaid contractor’s license go to the website of Service Alberta.
Warranties and guarantees
Make sure that warranties and guarantees are written in the initial contract. If issues come up after the work is finished, contact the renovator immediately. Many issues are small, but water leaks or electrical issues need to be taken seriously. Depending on the renovation, many products or materials come with a manufacturer’s warranty, as well. Ask the contractor for any documentation regarding warranties.
Set reasonable expectations
Any renovation, big or small, can bring some sweat, tears and frustrations. Sometimes materials are not available, perhaps with demolition a few unforeseen issues show up, or the contractor may fall ill. All kinds of issues can arise, so expect the unexpected and be prepared to be flexible.
At all times, try to keep communication open with the contractor and don’t let questions or concerns linger! And for future references, make notes about conversations and work.
We are Tanja van de Kamp and Ariette van Pelt, working as a team, both buying and selling homes in Calgary. Calgary has been our home since 2004, and real estate our full-time profession since 2009. Tanja was a lawyer in The Netherlands for 12 years, and learned how to negotiate strategically, and to work in the best interests of her clients. It’s been a privilege to work with our clients. Over the years, many clients, through their many referrals, have shown their appreciation of us.
As first time home buyers, all of the knowledge, patience and candid advice we received from Tanja & Ariette was instrumental to us getting the home we really loved. It feels impossible to buy a place you love in this market, but Tanja & Ariette made it possible for us.
Thank you Tanja and Ariette for all of your help, we couldn't have been happier with our choice, even if it came without all of the stroopwafels! 🙂